Inhalant Abuse: Could Your Child Be Huffing, Snuffing or Bagging?
Inhalant is a term for a host of household items that produce chemical vapors users inhale to produce a mind-altering effect. These products generally cannot be abused in any other way than by breathing in the fumes. Inhalants are solvents, aerosols, nitrites or certain gases. A comprehensive list of inhalants would be virtually impossible to compile, but products like cooking spray, hair spray, magic markers, paint thinner, cigarette lighters and room fresheners or deodorizers are on the list and give a sense for how ubiquitous inhalants are.
Depending on the product being abused, users will practice huffing, snuffing or bagging in order to get high from the fumes. Huffing refers to soaking a cloth with the inhalant and then putting the cloth up to the user’s mouth to suck in the fumes. Snuffing means that the person sprays an aerosol inhalant into the air and then sniffs deeply to absorb the chemicals. Bagging is the term for spraying or pouring an inhalant product into a bag and then breathing in the fumes.
Whether it is huffed, snuffed or bagged, the inhalant high lasts 15 to 30 minutes. During this time the person feels the typical euphoria that other drugs produce. Kids may think that using inhalants to get high is safe since most of the products used can be found on household shelves, but these products are actually releasing potentially deadly chemical fumes.
The short-lived high of inhaling is succeeded by slurred or impaired speech, dis-inhibition, dizziness and, in some cases, hallucinations. These chemicals act on the central nervous system, changing normal function. Heart rates, for example, often speed up and become erratic. The irregular heartbeat can become deadly heart failure the first time a person uses inhalants.
Repeated inhalant use can produce serious damage. Brain damage, kidney and liver damage, damaged hearing and impaired coordination are all potential risks with inhalants. Huffers also face the risk of suffocating, passing out or experiencing a seizure.
Parents who find an unexplained stash of cloths or rags in a child’s rooms should talk with him or her about what is going on. Parents need to be clear about the fact that inhalants are not harmless and getting high is not worth the risk. Other signs of inhalant use include unexplained empty aerosol containers, slurred speech, confusion and poor coordination.
After telling kids about the inherent risks of inhalant abuse, a parent’s next step is to be a good listener. Invite the kids to talk with you about what they know of inhalant abuse. The National Survey on Drug Use and Health reports that about 10 percent of 12 to 18 year olds have experimented with inhalants, so it is probable that your child at least knows someone who has tried them.
Besides open communication on the subject of inhalant abuse, parents should be firm about the boundaries. Kids need to hear that not only illegal drug or prescription drug abuse is prohibited, but any mind-altering substance abuse is outside the family bounds.
Inhalant abuse is easy and affordable for kids looking to get high. Parents who preempt the situation by being the first to raise the subject and warn of the dangers are doing what they can to protect their children from foolish and dangerous behavior. As with all other forms of substance abuse, parents represent the greatest single influence on behavior.